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10th anniversary of the Witcher series – Q&A session with developers

The celebrations of the 10th anniversary of Geralt’s adventures continue! We’ve gathered answers to some of the questions asked by members of our forums for you to read as you wait for the results of the anniversary contests.

Enjoy!

  1. Going into The Witcher III with your previous experience, were there any specific challenges? Things you totally underestimated or misjudged? Were there any lessons learned which you did not expect beforehand?

    Miles Tost:
    Well, the studio hadn’t made a game like The Witcher 3 before. I’m talking about The Witcher going open world while staying true to its roots as a story-driven RPG. From a design and technological point of view it posed a massive challenge.
    One of the challenges I remember from a designer’s perspective was defining the right content density in the world. It’s important to maintain a good balance of content: too little and it gets boring, too much and a player might start feeling overwhelmed. It took us a long time to get this right. We even continued this process while learning from our experiences all the way into the design of both expansions. That bit of positive evolution and refinement — I hope it’s something gamers notice when comparing the base game to, say, Blood and Wine.

  2. Despite the many different ways in which a player can experience the stories of The Witcher Series, what message, or lesson would you hope someone might take away from the games? Since fantasy storytelling is very often a mirror, reflecting our own reality in altered guises, what do you hope The Witcher games tell people about life, society, and the world in which we live? Is there an intended message?

    Miles Tost:
    I think playing games is a very personal thing and for every person that experience will vary and mean something different. This is why I’m so happy to see us having such a cool community. It is very heartwarming to see people of so many origins and backgrounds come together and share stories they experienced while playing the game we created. Some great discussions have come to life from people experiencing certain key moments in the game differently having made different choices along the way. As a developer, I am super happy whenever I hear of someone enjoying the game we made. In the end, this is what I believe games are for — to be enjoyed.

    Kuba Szamałek:
    Well, we definitely didn’t have a secret message we hoped to convey, but the stories told in The Witcher 3 do have some common themes to them. Friends matter. Hate leads to hate. Some conflicts are impossible to resolve. As you can see, these aren’t terribly original ideas, but they ring true and resonate with players. The other thing we tried to show is that sometimes the real monsters are people — regular, nice folk. Unlike monsters, who are programmed by nature to do horrible things, humans have the freedom to choose. Combine that with the fact we’re weak and can easily submit to all sorts of evil — frankly, it makes people scary as hell and part of why Geralt’s fantastic adventures are so relatable. Because while there are no griffins, vampires, or drowners in the real world, it’s hardly devoid of evil.

  3. How do you feel knowing people may only experience a part of what you have created? Does it bother you that your hard work may be skipped, or even ignored by some players?

    Miles Tost:
    As I’ve said previously, I love the fact that our game brings people together to talk about the very different experiences they had while playing it. This contributes to every playthrough being one that is very personal to a player. Sure, whenever I see someone playing on Twitch or other streaming platforms, I can’t help but sit there and root for them to find the thing I made. Still, I won’t be sad if they don’t, because personally I think that the sum of our game’s parts is greater than its individual components.

  4. How much coffee does the average writer on your team consume and does this affect writing ability?

    Kuba Szamałek:
    I can’t really speak for the whole team, but I need at least two cups of coffee to start the day.

  5. What has been the most memorable reaction to The Witcher Series from the community?

    Kuba Szamałek:
    Let me just start by saying that seeing how much our work is being enjoyed and appreciated by gamers is extremely rewarding. To give a specific example — just a week ago I was blown away by this fanfic done with SBUI mod someone posted on The Witcher subreddit. Basically, they took a single line from a little quest I wrote (the Tufo monster contract from Blood and Wine) and spun it into a laugh-out-loud story. I was amazed that such a little snippet from The Witcher could inspire something so lovingly made and creative. So a big shout out to the community for all the posts, fanarts, comments on the forums, reddit and other sites — thank you!

    Miles Tost:
    There are so many! Our community team, does this awesome internal newsletter with messages from gamers, who send in a lot of heartwarming letters. It’s incredibly humbling to hear what impact the series has had on some people’s lives — it’s definitely a motivating factor moving forward. I can’t thank people enough for the truly outstanding support they have been giving us over the years!

  6. Upon his numerous adventures, Geralt has briefly touched the lives of many folk, and then continued upon his way. Overall, do you feel he provided more help than harm during these encounters?

    Kuba Szamałek:
    Yes, definitely. Geralt might pretend he’s neutral, but deep down inside he’s a good guy who tries to make the world a better place. Sadly, even though he’s endowed with these amazing powers, the problems of The Witcher universe run deep and cannot be resolved with sword or magic alone. Killing a few monsters, finding a bunch of people who went missing, or solving a couple of crimes won’t make the greed, prejudice and mistrust between people go away. But despite his world being a cruel, brutal place, Geralt continues to try his best, knowing all well that there’s only so much he can do.

  7. What are your favourite easter eggs in the games?

    Miles Tost:
    The village Carsten in the Novigrad area is named after my brother — the description is a pretty obvious reference to our last name, if you know it. There’s also one more. In the ruins of an old castle in Skellige there’s a seaside prison cell. I put a mesh of a skeleton there and scaled it down, which was meant to reference an event in the Game of Thrones TV series. It was supposed to end there, but later in development it turned out that someone had actually gone and made a proper character mesh to replace the skeleton. Made my day to know that not only did someone from the team catch the easter egg I left there, but also improved it. Glorious.

  8. Are you sick of Witcher by now?

    Kuba Szamałek:
    Not at all. Though it did feel like the right time for Geralt to retire — I mean, how could we possibly come up with an even more epic adventure for him? — there are many, many other characters in The Witcher universe whose stories I’d love to explore. One of them is Queen Meve of Lyria and Rivia, who is going to be the protagonist of GWENT’s single player story campaign — Thronebreaker. So if you’re looking to return to the world of The Witcher, this is something you should keep an eye on.

    Miles Tost:
    No, but I must say that working on Cyberpunk 2077 is a nice change of scenery and feels quite different.

  9. What is the most tedious question about The Witcher Series?

    Miles Tost:
    This one.

    Kuba Szamałek:
    You mean, a question we get asked? Well, while we do appreciate all the questions (we really do!), the ones about Geralt’s love interests are greeted with a tiny little bit less enthusiasm than others.

  10. Did Vesemir really need to die?

    Kuba Szamałek:
    It’s a tough question to answer. Obviously, Vesemir did not need to die — after all, his fate wasn’t dictated by some immutable force of nature, but was determined by our story team. When designing the Battle of Kaer Morhen sequence, we felt that we need some dramatic event to showcase the might of the Wild Hunt. Otherwise, it wouldn’t feel like a big enough threat, a force to be truly reckoned with. In other words, a siege without casualties wouldn’t feel authentic and wouldn’t generate the emotional response we needed at this critical juncture in the story. Once we realized this, we asked ourselves who from among all the defenders of the keep would be most willing to sacrifice him or herself for Ciri; whose death would have pushed Ciri over the edge. Vesemir’s name came up immediately, though we couldn’t decide on his fate right away. He was such an important person in The Witcher universe that we felt the matter needed to be thoroughly discussed. So discuss we did — and we eventually concluded that to perish while fighting the Wild Hunt, in defense of Ciri, was a death befitting the oldest of the witchers of the School of the Wolf.

  11. Why did so many smugglers sink their loot in the waters of Skellige? Isn’t that the first place adventurous, seafaring raiders would notice?

    Miles Tost:
    To be honest, that was sort of a knee-jerk reaction after finding out way too late in the development process that there was shockingly little going on in the waters of Skellige. This was really the only thing we had time for and I think we all know we went a bit overboard (get it?) with it. We had a boatload of optional islands around Skellige planned and even blocked out, featuring quests and all — though most of the quest stuff had never been properly implemented. In terms of available resources, we simply couldn’t commit to it, so they ended up not making it into the game. Only later did we go “Uh, guys, we need at least some content here.”
    You see, making games is a series of compromises. I don’t think anyone would argue today that the entire The Witcher 3 package, including both expansions, contains too little content. From our perspective, however, we tend to aim way way higher than what we deliver pretty much every time. If we had committed to adding all the stuff we really wanted, the base quality of everything might have ended up being lower. At some point you have to ask yourself whether that additional island is really worth sacrificing time that could be spent on polishing the main quest, etc.

  12. How did game/world design affect your ability to tell the story you wanted to tell?

    Kuba Szamałek:
    Hugely. The stories we tell all depend, to varying degrees, on the game mechanics, how big the world is going to be, technical capabilities of the engine, etc. To give just one example: in the first The Witcher game and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, we had a very rudimentary expression/gesture system. Geralt could shrug, cross his arms, but not much beyond that, so everything had to be said out loud, verbalized. This doesn’t really work for Geralt — he isn’t a talkative guy, he wouldn’t explain how he feels. Instead of elaborating about his emotions, he’d just sigh or roll his eyes. This changed in The Witcher 3. Having tools at our disposal that allowed us to show interactions without using words, we were now able to create subtler, more natural dialogues between our characters. A mischievous smile here, a raised eyebrow there, and the whole scene feels more engaging and cinematic. It’s not that we didn’t know about this when working on past The Witcher games — we simply lacked the tools to do it.

  13. How did you go about deciding on the locations which would be included in TW3?

    Miles Tost:
    As far as the main quest is concerned, a lot of it was defined by story and what the quest team needed to convey it. Side content-wise, most of it was really just us coming up with what would make sense here, or how we could make things look and feel cool. It was a very dynamic and creative process with lots of freedom to bring in your own ideas. It’s part of the reason why we managed to actually get that one-of-a-kind siege tower in Skellige into the final game.

  14. How did you feel while writing The Witcher III’s story knowing that it would be the last part of the trilogy? Do you feel you’ve managed to tell the whole story of Geralt and his companions now?

    Kuba Szamałek:
    We knew the story had to be epic and provide a sense of closure — not only for Geralt, but also for some other characters. This was especially true for Blood and Wine. We knew that the dialogue between Regis and Geralt at the end of the expansion won’t just be a goodbye between two old friends, but also between Geralt and our players. This is why we decided to break the fourth wall and have the witcher look you directly in the eye.

  15. Were you surprised by the Team Yen vs. Team Triss Controversy, or did you anticipate it might happen? Did it exceed your expectations?

    Miles Tost:
    Personally, I wasn’t. The phenomenon started even during development, with different developers taking sides. War broke out, resulting in a lot of bloodshed, broken keyboards and plenty of other shenanigans.

  16. What do you think of the diverse translation/localisations of the games? Do you feel the English translation successfully communicates the story and ideas you wanted to express? Do you know of any quest or story which needed to be significantly rewritten to fit another language/culture?

    Kuba Szamałek:
    We’re very happy that our work can be enjoyed by millions of people in their native languages. Personally, I can only assess the quality of the English translation and I think it’s absolutely amazing. We have a team of in-house translators, who are fully fluent in both languages, pick up all the subtle references, puns, throwbacks and either translate them, or come up with equivalents which work better in the target language. From what I heard, the other translations hold up to this level of quality, which I think is a huge achievement for our localization team. As for region-specific alterations: we didn’t have to rewrite any quests. Regional variations pertain mostly to visuals — some regions are stricter about nudity (and so Yennefer never takes of her underwear), some about gore (so dismemberment in combat might be switched off). Overall, we try to limit such changes to an absolute minimum.

  17. How much of a headache was it attempting to provide meaningful references in Witcher III to choices in the previous games?

    Miles Tost:
    It was sort of a natural process for me, being someone who’s read the books and played the previous games. Let’s take the cave next to Kaer Morhen’s broken wall, for example, where it is implied that Salamandra started their assault on the keep in the first game. That was a “spur of the moment” decision when working on the quest where you venture out with Lambert. Together with Dennis, the quest’s designer, we tried to come up with some locations alongside the path gamer’s would be taking, and caves are always a solid option. So we thought “Okay, how can we make this cave special?”, which resulted in us coming up with that particular backstory for it. Certainly when it comes to quest designers implementing some of the more elaborate references, it’s probably going to be a bit more complex, but that’s a whole other story.

  18. Was it a challenge to create morally ‘grey’ stories, rather than presenting clear ‘black and white’ situations?

    Kuba Szamałek:
    To be frank, writing a black-and-white story would be a bigger challenge, because it’s harder to come up with one that doesn’t seem cliche, cheesy, or just straight out boring. In The Witcher universe, where valiant heroes and evil villains are hard to come by, it’s easier to come up with surprising twists and subvert players’ expectations. Though I guess at some point players start expecting to be surprised, which creates a bit of a paradox.

  19. Whatever happened to the Gnomes?

    Miles Tost:
    Put them in our garden. Legends say they still reside there to this very day.

  20. Did you roleplay some of the major characters while writing the games, and, if so, who on the team played whom, and who really suited their part?

    Kuba Szamałek:
    No, no, no. We’re writers. We’re terrible at acting. We’d die of embarrassment.

  21. What is Gaunter O’Dimm?

    Kuba Szamałek:
    Some questions are best left unanswered. One of the reasons why Gaunter is so disturbing and scary is his ambiguity. Once a witcher identifies an enemy, he prepares for the confrontation by brewing the right potions and oils. But how do you fight something you don’t understand, something that’s so completely out of your world? Geralt has no other option but to play by Gaunter’s rules, hoping he’ll find a way to bend them to his own advantage. To give Gaunter a name or a life bar with a set amount of hit points would be to take away the shroud of mystery which makes him so memorable.

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2 comments so far...

NetWatch Posts: 8885 Joined: 2012-06-06
The main question wasn't answered. What happened to the Linux version of TW3?
Junior Member Posts: 22 Joined: 2017-10-21
This is pre W1 so maybe a little off topic: But imagine how the life of the author of the original book about the Witcher would be today if he had opted for 5 or 10 per cent of all of the profits of the games in the series. Financially that is. Or would 10 per cent with no lump sum advance be to high for something like that back then?